Nikon Coolpix P500 Review

April 4, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Nikon Coolpix P500 is a new super-zoom compact camera designed to appeal to the keen enthusiast photographer. The P500 has a mechanically-stabilized 36x optical zoom with a massive focal range of 22.5-810mm and an innovative side zoom control. It also offers a 1/2.3" Back Side Illuminated CMOS sensor with 12.2 megapixels, sensitivity range of ISO 160 to 3200, full 1080p HD video recording with stereo sound, slow-motion video at up to 240fps, manual shooting modes, a burst mode of 5 continuous shots at eight frames per second, and a 3-inch 921K-dot tiltable LCD screen. The Nikon Coolpix P500 is available in black or red for £399.99 / $399.95.

Ease of Use

Weighing in at 494 grams, the Nikon Coolpix P500 is slightly heavier than the P100, but its design is only minimally different. Like most high-end superzooms, the Nikon P500 has the typical bridge camera look, with a chunky hand-grip, large lens barrel, pop-up flash and an eye-level electronic viewfinder. The deep grip is moulded to fit comfortably into your right hand, and is rubberised for added comfort.

The other dominant part of the P500 is of course the 32x zoom lens, which goes from an ultra-wide 22.5mm to a massive 810mm in 35mm terms. Considering that with an SLR, you would need at least 3-4 lenses to cover the same focal range, the single, fixed-mount lens of the Nikon P500 can be described as remarkably compact, even if it does extend quite a bit when zoomed to full telephoto. Superzooms have always had a reputation for having a high "fun factor", and the P500 is no different. The ability to quickly go from wide angle to ultra-telephoto is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. It certainly gives you a kind of freedom you do not feel with any other type of camera.

For its size, the P500's lens is also respectably fast, with maximum apertures of f/3.4 at 22.5mm and f/5.7 at 810mm. Note that the lens cap has to be removed before turning on the camera - failing to do so will result in an error message being displayed, and you'll have to turn off the camera before you can turn it on again, which is a bit annoying. Although if you only want to review what's already on the card, you can also power on the P500 by holding down the Playback button, in which case the lens won't extend.

Thankfully Nikon has included Vibration Reduction (VR) to help prevent camera-shake, an essential feature on a camera like this. Interestingly, while VR is lens based in the Nikon SLR system, it is of the sensor-shift variety in the P500. Vibration Reduction makes a noticeable difference to the sharpness of the images, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page.

Nikon Coolpix P500 Nikon Coolpix P500
Front Rear

You can hear a slight mechanical whirring noise when it is turned on, but otherwise you don't really notice it, except that that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Sadly, there isn't a dedicated button to turn VR on and off - but at least leaving it on did not seem to negatively affect the battery life, with the camera managing around 220 shots using the supplied Li-ion battery. It's still a good idea to turn VR off (via the menu) when the camera is mounted on a tripod, lest the system itself cause blurring by trying to counter camera shake that isn't there.

Zooming is done by way of a conventional zoom lever that encircles the shutter release button sitting atop the right-hand grip. It is of the dual-speed variety: rotating it all the way in either direction will adjust the focal length quickly, while rotating it partially will cause the lens elements to move slower, enabling you to set the desired focal length more precisely. You can alternatively zoom using the innovative side zoom control on the lens barrel, which is a vertical rocker switch activated with your left hand. It has a slower action than the main zoom lever, and is therefore ideally suited to shooting video when you require a more sedate zoom with less mechanical noise.

There are two different ways of composing images with the Nikon Coolpix P500: you can use either the eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the rear screen. Unfortunately, there are no eye proximity sensors that would allow the camera to toggle between the two automatically - you need to press a button every time you want that to happen. The EVF is a bog standard affair with 230,000 dots and average magnification; nothing to write home about, especially in 2011. The three-inch rear LCD screen is much nicer to look at, thanks to its high resolution of 921,000 dots. Even more importantly, it's articulated and able to tilt up or down, giving you some added flexibility in composing your shots. A truly free-angle LCD, which can also be rotated out to the side, would have been even nicer though.

The layout and number of external controls haven't changed much from the P100. You still get a traditional, top-mounted mode dial with P, A, S and M shooting modes - perfect for the photographer who wants to take full control - as well as full auto, Scene Auto Selector, Smart Portrait, Night Portrait, Night Landscape and Backlighting modes. There is also a User (U) setting you can use to quickly retrieve a combination of your most frequently used settings. The shutter release, zoom lever and power button are essentially in the same locations as on the P100, joined by a new button for continuous shooting.

Nikon Coolpix P500 Nikon Coolpix P500
Fold-out LCD Screen Side

In the Backlighting mode, the P500 captures three consecutive shots at varying exposures and combines them into a single photo with a broader range of tones. Three different HDR settings are available for selection. When the Night Landscape scene mode is selected, the P500 takes several shots at a fast shutter speed and then combines them to create a single optimized photo, allowing you to shoot after dark without having to use a tripod. The Easy Panorama scene mode allows you to take vertical or horizontal panorama photos simply by moving the camera in the direction of the on-screen guides. Multiple shots are then combined into a single panorama photo. The angle of view can be selected from 180° (normal) and 360° (wide).

The rear controls are also laid out very similarly to those of the preceding model. There is a well-positioned control wheel in the top-right corner (when viewed from the back), which makes it easy to change the aperture and shutter speed in A and S modes respectively, but there's still no second dial on the hand-grip which would have made operating Manual mode much easier. The familiar multi-selector with its centred OK button appears identical to the P100, down to the individual functions that are mapped onto the Up, Down, Left and Right buttons. These include the flash and focus modes, the self-timer and exposure compensation, respectively. There is still no shortcut key to ISO speed, which is only accessible from the menu (as is white balance); a major design flaw in our opinion.

The P500's focus modes include AF, Macro, Infinity and Manual. AF can be centre-spot, user selectable from 99 focus points or camera selectable from 9 points. In Face Priority AF mode, the camera can detect up to 12 human faces and will focus on the one closest to the camera. We found that regardless of AF area mode, auto-focus speed was satisfactory for still subjects, but too slow for fast-moving ones. Manual focusing is also possible, though a bit awkward: you get a rudimentary distance scale on the right-hand side of the screen, and can adjust focus via the Up and Down buttons. The centre of the picture is enlarged to aid you with checking focus, but unfortunately this is achieved by  way of interpolation rather than real magnification. The whole process is pretty slow, but can still be a godsend when the auto-focus system starts acting up.

The flash of the Nikon P500 has to be popped up manually, using the button on the side of the mock pentaprism housing. You can set the flash mode to auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill, slow sync and rear-curtain sync via the Up button on the multi-controller, but only when the flash is raised. As there is no hot-shoe or sync terminal on the Nikon Coolpix P500, and it does not offer wireless TTL flash control either, the only way to sync up an external flashgun with the camera is to optically slave it to the built-in unit.

Nikon Coolpix P500 Nikon Coolpix P500
Pop-up Flash Top

The P500 has the ability to shoot full-resolution stills at up to 8 frames per second (fps), slightly slower than it predecessor. Accessible via the new continuous shooting button on top of the camera, this fast burst mode is called Continuous H. Alas, the camera cannot keep up this speed for long, as the buffer fills up after just 5 shots. In other words, you can only shoot for a bit more than half a second in Continuous H mode. Thankfully, there is also a slower burst mode, called Continuous L, in which the frame rate drops to 2.5fps, but you can capture up to 200 full-resolution photos at the Normal quality setting. Note that you cannot use the flash in any of the continuous shooting modes. Disappointingly the P500 doesn't support the RAW file format, something that all of its main competitors offer, and a prosumer feature that frankly we'd expect on this class of camera.

The P500 can shoot Full HD (1920×1080-pixel) movies at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound and full use of the optical zoom. It also offers a 720p mode at 1280x720 pixels (30 fps) and VGA mode at 640x480 pixels (30 fps). Nikon's smart designers put the stereo microphone on the top of the camera right behind the flash. A Wind Noise Reduction function is available in the Movie menu. Serving to minimise the noise of wind blowing on the microphone, it is recommended to be turned on in strong wind only, as it may also make other sounds difficult to hear. Sensor-shift VR is not available during movie recording, but you may opt to turn on electronic image stabilisation.

The P500 is also capable of high-speed (HS) movie recording, albeit not at Full HD resolution. QVGA videos can be shot at 240fps, VGA movies at 120fps, and HD (720p) clips at 60fps. When these videos are played back at 30fps, they become slow-motion movies. The maximum recording time per clip is limited to 10 seconds in the HS video modes. Sound is not recorded and no form of VR is available. Given the high frame rates, these videos require fast shutter speeds, which effectively means that you need very bright conditions, especially when shooting at 240 frames per second. There is an ingenious movie mode switch around the Movie Record button that toggles between HD and HS movie recording. An elegant and simple solution, although the parameters have to be set via the menu.

Recording movie clips is very easy on the Nikon P500 via the one-touch Movie Record button on the rear of the camera. By pressing this button, you can start recording a clip no matter what shooting mode you are in. You can use the optical zoom while filming, and full-time AF is also available. In use, we found that zooming in or out sometimes caused the image to go temporarily out of focus, but the AF system usually adjusted itself very quickly in these cases. The maximum clip length is limited to 29 minutes. The Creative Slider and Special Effects can also be used when shooting movies, and they can be played back on a HDTV via the built-in HDMI connector, although as usual there's no suitable cable supplied in the box. The P500 supports the CEC feature for HDMI which enables playback control using your TV's remote control.

Nikon Coolpix P500 Nikon Coolpix P500
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The Nikon Coolpix P500's familiar Menu button accesses the usual Nikon menu system, which is clear and easy to navigate. Press this when in any of the shooting modes and there's three menus, Shooting, Movie and Settings, with two menus, Playback and Settings, available when you're reviewing an image. A big oversight is the almost constant need to use the menu system for setting the ISO speed, white balance, metering, and AF mode, with at least 4 button presses required to change these often-used features. The P500 is sorely missing some kind of quick menu system, accessible via an external control, to help speed up its general operation.

In playback mode, pressing the same Menu button affords access to rudimentary image editing, including Nikon's exposure adjusting D-Lighting function, Skin Softening and Filter Effects, image slide shows, and the automatic Quick Retouch. A button to the right features the familiar trashcan icon for deleting images on the fly and completes the rear of the P500.

On the right flank of the camera - still viewing it from the rear - there's a metal eyelet for attaching the supplied shoulder strap. On the left hand flank is another eyelet and a plastic cover protecting the HDMI port and A/V out / USB port. There's a centrally positioned, metal tripod mount on the bottom of the camera. The P500 is powered by a 1100 mAh lithium ion battery, good for around 240 shots, that slots into the base alongside the SD / SDHC / SDXC card slot. There is a small internal memory too, but it will only hold a few photos at full resolution, so you'll definitely need a memory card. Note that recharging the P500 is a somewhat convoluted affair, with the battery remaining in camera and requiring the battery cover to be closed.

The performance of the Nikon P500 is mostly satisfactory. It starts up in under two seconds and zooms pretty quickly yet accurately for a power zoom. As noted earlier, its AF speed is not the greatest, but you'll only notice that when trying to capture fast action. We found the high-speed continuous shooting mode brilliant but sadly limited by a small buffer. The only truly frustrating design flaw is the lack of direct access to ISO speed and white balance. We'd really like to see dedicated buttons for these functions. In Playback mode, the only notable quirk is the inability to magnify into the image from Histogram view - this is something that ought to be easy to address via a firmware upgrade, although that never happened for the P100.

That concludes our look at the Nikon Coolpix P500's ease-of-use, now let's move on to its image quality...

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4.5Mb.

The Nikon Coolpix P500's image quality is good for a compact camera with a small image sensor. The Nikon Coolpix P500's dealt fairly well with noise, which becomes obvious at ISO 400 along with some colour loss. The noise, colour desaturation and loss of detail gets progressively worse as you go from ISO 400 to ISO 1600 and finally the unusable 3200 setting.

The Nikon Coolpix P500 handled chromatic aberrations excellently with limited purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations. The 12.2 megapixel images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpen setting and either require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you should increase the in-camera sharpening level.

The Nikon Coolpix P500's maximum shutter speed is 8 seconds, which is fairly good news for night photography enthusiasts. Macro performance is very good, allowing you to focus as close as 3cms away from the subject. Vibration reduction is a very useful feature that works very well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or using the telephoto end of the zoom range. The built-in flash worked well indoors, with no red-eye and good overall exposure. The backlighting feature increases detail in both the shadows and highlights, although at the expense of some additional noise and loss of fine detail.


The Nikon Coolpix P500 has 6 sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 at full resolution.

ISO 160 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

Focal Range

The Nikon Coolpix P500's 36x zoom lens provides a focal length of 22.5-810mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.




Here are two 100% crops - the right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are slightly soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can alternatively change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


File Quality

At full resolution, there are three JPEG quality settings available - Fine, Normal and Basic.

Fine (5.28Mb) (100% Crop)

Normal (2.55Mb) (100% Crop)


Basic (1.31Mb) (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Nikon Coolpix P500 shows remarkably little purple fringing, with limited effects in areas of high contrast as shown in the example below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)


The Nikon Coolpix P500 allows you to get as close as 3cms to your subject, in this case a Compact Flash card.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


The flash settings on the Nikon Coolpix P500 are Auto, Auto with Red-eye reduction, Fill Flash, Manual (Full, 1/2, 1/4 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and 1/64), Slow Sync, Rear-curtain Sync and Flash Off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m. Some vignetting and barrel distortion is apparent at the 24mm wide-angle setting, irrespective of whether you use the flash or not.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (22.5mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (22.5mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (810mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (810mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Fill Flash or the Auto with Red-eye reduction options caused any amount of red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red Eye Reduction

Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Nikon Coolpix P500's maximum shutter speed is 8 seconds in the Manual mode, which is good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 8 seconds at ISO 160.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Vibration Reduction

The Nikon Coolpix P500 has an vibration reduction mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the lens set to the same focal length and ISO speed. The first shot was taken with vibration reduction turned off, the second with it turned on. As you can see, with vibration reduction turned on, the images are definitely sharper than with vibration reduction turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether. Here is a 100% crop of the images to show the results.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
1/5 sec / 22.5mm
1/6 sec / 810mm


The P500 captures three consecutive shots at varying exposures and combines them into a single photo with a broader range of tones. Three different HDR settings are available for selection.





Special Effects

You can apply six different special effects as you shoot, with a live preview on the LCD screen showing exactly what the final image will look like.



Nostalgic Sepia

High-contrast Monochrome


High Key

Low Key

Filter Effects

You can apply four different filter effects in-camera to photos that you have already taken.

Cross Screen


Miniature Effect


Easy Panorama

Easy Panorama allows you to take vertical or horizontal panorama photos simply by moving the camera in the direction of the on-screen guides. Multiple shots are then combined into a single panorama photo. The angle of view can be selected from 180° (normal) and 360° (wide).

Easy Panorama - 180°
Full-size Image
Easy Panorama - 360°
Full-size Image

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Nikon Coolpix P500 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 1920x1280 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 11 second movie is 19.6Mb in size.

Product Images

Nikon Coolpix P500

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Front of the Camera / Turned On

Nikon Coolpix P500

Front of the Camera / Pop-up Flash

Nikon Coolpix P500

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix P500

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix P500

Rear of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Nikon Coolpix P500

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Nikon Coolpix P500

Rear of the Camera / Shooting Menu


Nikon Coolpix P500

Fold-out LCD Screen

Nikon Coolpix P500

Fold-out LCD Screen

Nikon Coolpix P500

Fold-out LCD Screen

Nikon Coolpix P500

Top of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Bottom of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P500

Memory Card Slot

Nikon Coolpix P500

Battery Compartment


The Nikon Coolpix P500 is a rather modest update of its predecessor, the P100, with the new 36x zoom lens the star of the show. Being able to shoot ultra-wide angle landscapes and extreme close-ups with the same camera is very liberating, but the overall image quality is merely good, there are a few unresolved handling issues, there's RAW format, and it struggles to keep up with fast-moving subjects.

The main attraction of the P500 is of course that 22.5-810mm equivalent zoom lens, which covers the focal range of at least 4 SLR lenses. But there is a lot more to the Nikon P500 than just an insanely long zoom. It also offers SLR-like handling, manual exposure and focus, an eye-level viewfinder, an articulated and high-resolution LCD screen and full HD movies with stereo sound, full-time AF and optical zoom as well. The P500 is a very well rounded package that is surprisingly compact and lightweight and will more than satisfy the needs of many users.

In terms of handling, the P500 suffers from the same main issues as its predecessor. These include a lack of direct access to ISO speed and white balance, a missing second control wheel and the inability to attach an external flashgun. Generally speaking, however, the Nikon Coolpix P100 offers better handling and ease-of-use than some of its competitors, and would be an even better camera if Nikon could eventually address those few issues. The addition of the side zoom control on the lens barrel is a very welcome one, especially for videographers.

Image quality is more of a mixed bag. It's not bad for a compact camera, but the move to a 12 megapixel sensor, despite it still being a back-illuminated CMOS one, hasn't done the P500 any favours. There is simply too much smearing of fine detail in the full-resolution images, even at the lower ISO speeds, with things starting to fall apart at ISO 400 and getting progressively worse as you go up the range. Just like its smaller brother, the P300, which shares the same sensor, the P500's overall image quality is pleasing, but simply not as good as its rivals.

Despite the image quality, lack of RAW mode and handling issues, the Nikon Coolpix P500 remains a good choice for those who want the convenience of a superzoom but also require the creative control provided by a higher-end camera. It may not produce the best photos at higher ISO speeds or focus quickly enough for fast-moving subjects, but it's a lot more portable and convenient than an SLR with a bag full of lenses and also doubles up as an effective video camera thanks to its excellent video mode.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 3.5

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Nikon Coolpix P500 from around the web. »

The Nikon Coolpix P500 improves on its predecessor's features and shooting performance, but its photos and video quality still aren't as good as the rest of the package.
Read the full review » »

Call it a Super, Mega, Ultra, Deluxe, Supreme, or Big Booming Zoom—the new Nikon Coolpix P500 continues the tradition of obscene zoom ranges with its 36x optical range, one of the largest magnifications available within the current compact camera circuit. This is a 10x optical leap from last year's Nikon Coolpix P100, but that's not the only primary upgrade on the P500.
Read the full review »


*1 Based on CIPA industry standard for measuring life of camera batteries. Measured at 23°C; zoom adjusted with each shot,
built-in flash fired with every other shot, image mode set to Normal.
*2 Not compatible with Multi Media Cards (MMC).
*3 Setting is available only for image sizes of 3M (2048 x 1536) or smaller.
*4 Method of noting dimensions and weight is in accordance with CIPA DCG-005-2009 guideline.
*5 In case of using four AA Energizer(r) Ultimate Lithium batteries.
*6 In case of using two AA Energizer(r) Ultimate Lithium batteries.

Effective pixels 12.1 million pixels
Image sensor Type: 1/2.3-in. type CMOS with active cell array; Color filter array: RGB filter; Total pixels:Approx. 12.75 million pixels; Recording pixels: Approx. 12.00 million pixels (4000 x 3000)
Lens Optical 36x zoom, NIKKOR lens; Focal length: 4.0-144mm (35mm [135] format equivalent to 22.5-810 mm); Aperture: f/3.4-5.7; Lens construction: 14 elements in 9 groups (one ED glass element)
Focus range (from lens) Normal shooting: approx. 50 cm (1 ft. 8 in.) to infinity (at wide angle setting), approx. 2.2 m (7 ft. 3 in.) to infinity (at telephoto setting); Macro close-up mode: approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) to infinity (at closest focus distance), approx. 2.2 m (7 ft. 3 in.) to infinity (at telephoto setting)
Monitor Size: 7.5 cm (3-in.); Number of dots: Approx. 921k-dot; Type: TFT LCD monitor; (Acrylic) cover: Protective acrylic panel with anti-reflection coating on both sides and HD coating (no air-gapless structure)
Storage media Internal memory (approx. 102 MB), SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card *2
Vibration Reduction (VR) Image-sensor shift type + electronic type (still image); Other blur-reduction functions: Motion Detection (conventional type), BSS (Best Shot Selector)
ISO sensitivity ISO 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200*3 (4000 x 3000) , Auto (ISO 160 to 800), Fixed range auto (ISO 160 to 400)
Interface Hi-Speed USB/PictBridge
Power Sources Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL5 (1100 mAh), AC Adapter EH-62A (option)
Battery life *1 Approx. 220 shots (EN-EL5)
Dimensions (WxHxD) Approx. 115.5 x 83.7 x 102.5 mm/4.6 x 3.3 x 4.1 in. (excluding projections) *4
Weight Approx. 494 g (1 lb. 1.5 oz) (including battery and SD memory card) *4
Movie HD 1080p: 1920 x 1080 (30 fps), HD 720p: 1280 x 720 (30 fps), iFrame 540: 960 x 540 (30 fps), VGA: 640 x 480 (30 fps); HS movie: (15/60/120/240 fps; no sound)
Supplied accessories Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL5, Charging AC Adapter EH-69, USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16, Camera Strap AN-CP21, Lens Cap LC-CP23 and ViewNX 2 CD-ROM
Optional accessories Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL5, Charging AC Adapter EH-69, Battery Charger MH-61, AC Adapter EH-62A, USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16 and Lens Cap LC-CP23

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